For the past three decades I have been the bread bakery in our home. Starting the sponge early on the morning of my day off, would promise to end the day with the smell of fresh bread when our daughters and my wife came home from school in the late afternoon. Coming home to the smell of fresh bread is about as good as it gets. Seeing the satisfaction on their face of the simple joy of eating warm sourdough bread with nothing but butter is something that still gives me great joy. In fact it was well into their teenage years that they thought there were but two kinds of bread, store bread and daddy bread!
It was with this background of bread making that I decided to create a wood-fired oven to make pizzas and other foods. The process of making anything has always been something that has given me energy and purpose. From building homes with my brother and father, or knitting sweaters on dark evenings while living in Holland, I’ve realized I am hardwired to be making something with my hands, especially since I make my living with my mind.
In the spring of 2012 I built our wood-fired pizza oven and patio designed for large parties. Scouring the Internet for ideas and designs for the oven itself I settled on the dome design for it’s consistent and even radiant heat it delivers. I purchased a masonry saw off craigslist and built the dome, brick by brick, using traditional fire brick and an indispensable tool I had a friend weld up for me. This allowed the radius of the dome to be perfectly symmetrical and to build the complete dome with no internal supports. The oven floor is 36 inches across allowing me to bake two pizzas at a time quite comfortably. There are larger pizza ovens for sure, but I have consistently baked 100 pizzas in 120 minutes when we have large groups and that satisfies any need that I have. It keeps the kitchen crew happening for sure.
Some people groan when they learn that it takes me four hours to heat up the oven before making pizza, but I tell them it is the best four hours of my week! Sitting on the patio, stoking a fire, reading a book (which is part of my work), and drinking a glass of wine while anticipating the joy of friends gathering and sharing a meal with us is good for the soul.
On rare evenings my wife and I enjoy pizzas alone, but more often than not, it is groups of 10 to 20 or more who come for the evening. We have learned that to keep it sustainable, and to be hospitable with our guests, we have hired and trained kitchen crews to come in and help with prep, make the pizzas and clean up, while we are baking and serving the pizzas for the larger groups. Actually are three son-in-law’s now are experts in baking the pizzas and I turn it over to them whenever they appear.
For the last several years we have used the pizza patio complex for fundraisers that we extend to organizations we support. They gather a group of people and we feed them while they are raising awareness of their activities and ministries.
The simplicity of a quality wood-fired pizza is found in the simplicity of its ingredients and is one of the pleasures of life. We warn people that our target pizza is not Pizza Hut, but the gourmet Neapolitan pizza that is growing in popularity. All of the bread though is of course made at home using a fine high gluten flour. In a small garden surrounding the pizza oven, we grow the tomatoes, peppers, onions, and plenty of basil! For groups of less than 100 I have been making fresh mozzarella cheese from whole milk that I get from our Amish neighbor which does more than only add to the unique fresh flavor. The byproduct of making cheese is of course whey, which I use rather than water in the pizza dough. This crust we sprinkle with pink Himalayan sea salt which creates a tanginess that guests with clever pallets tried to discern what sets our pizza apart.
Though I have become somewhat of a pizza geek, and also realize I’m on the slippery slope of becoming a pizza snob, the greatest joy has been to share this space with others. We use it as a tool for hospitality creating new and deeper relationships with the people that visit our home.
Here is a video of Terry’s building process.
Written by Terry Shue